Alfred knew he was dreaming, because had he been awake and in control of his own actions, he wouldn't be back in that atrocious green-and-gold ensemble the Labyrinth had put him in. But the scene before him was so beautiful, so wonderful, that he barely noticed the horrible outfit.
The Labyrinth was healing.
Slowly at first, then faster and faster, the mountain cliffs which had frustrated so many leveled down to hills. Poisonous plants grew old and withered. They died, and flowers sprung up in their place. Many species of monsters- snogs, chaodyn, griffins- retreated to their caves, while the populations of other types- Labyrinth dragons, wolfen, tiger-men- dwindled. The Patryns had grown stronger as snogs and their ilk retreated. They'd gotten more time to rest, recover, train, and they used that time to strengthen themselves.
Throughout this transformation, which lasted years (though to Alfred, it seemed like all this happened in mere hours), the Labyrinth never once invoked its magic. Beasts stayed where they were, unable to teleport to richer hunting grounds. The weather became less extreme- fewer thunderstorms and blizzards, more gentle showers and blue-skied days.
And as the prison maze faded into just another world (albeit a world filled with monsters), something wonderful happened. The River of Anger, born of the Patryns' hate, dried up.
Alfred watched as the last pathetic trickle of water soaked into the ground, leaving nothing but a desiccated riverbed.
And then he woke up.
His grandchildren already knew the gist of the tale, of course. The entire Nexus knew! But as usual, they didn't know the whole story, only the bits and pieces that the witnesses had seen. Since a great deal of the action had taken place within Alfred's own mind, he was really the only person who could fill in the gaps.
Balthazar and Vasu were alerted the moment he awakened. Instead of sending for Alfred, they went to his home. They had met his grandchildren, knew that the kids wouldn't let the Sartan out of their sight until they'd heard the entire story. With that in mind, they asked Alfred to deliver his report in the living room, surrounded by his friends and family.
As usual, his report was delivered unpretentiously but nonetheless rich in details. Or rather, it was rich in details that emphasized Alfred's incompetence. Occurrences which needlessly (at least in his opinion) lionized him had to be pried out of him.
But Haplo, at least, was used to getting the full story out of his friend. He knew how to recognize when the Sartan was employing his talent for neither lying nor telling the truth, and he was not willing to put up with such tendencies. "Alfred," he said (and the other name, the one he would not say around people who did not know it, was plain for all to hear), "you just destroyed the Labyrinth by turning it into a fish. There's no way you can paint that as a modest achievement."
Unfortunately, Haplo was also quite adept at learning embarrassing details (such as a certain appalling article of clothing). It was one of the reasons he'd been chosen as Xar's emissary, and the skill had only increased with time.
Needless to say, the grandchildren had quite a laugh at Alfred's mortified description of what exactly the Labyrinth had dressed him in.
Red-faced, he half-seriously threatened to stop telling the story. The children knew better than to take him at his word- they had him wrapped around their collective finger- but they obediently fell silent. Three or four of them exchanged glances, plotting mischievously to create a coat like that.
Alfred, blissfully unaware of his conspiring kin, continued his tale. A few minutes later, he was finished.
Then, of course, he had to show the half-healed fish bite to the grandchildren, who oohed and ahed and were generally quite impressed. Had it come from anything else but the Labyrinth personified, they would have ignored it. But because it was from the Labyrinth….
From that point onward, the children wouldn't just boast about their parents' feats and prowess. Whenever they talked about their families, they would be sure to add that they had the coolest grandfather in the seven worlds.
Finally, when they had all gawked at Alfred's new wound for longer than the Sartan was comfortable with, the children began to disperse. Soon only the adults- Marit, Haplo, Balthazar, Vasu, and Alfred himself- remained.
"What now?" the Sartan asked.
Haplo didn't even have to think about his answer. "We do what we've always done, of course. The Labyrinth might not be alive anymore, but that doesn't mean I'm leaving any of my people there."
"True safety exists only in the Nexus," Vasu agreed. He smiled warmly. "Though of course, what you did yesterday has greatly improved the lives of my people."
Alfred went red. "It wasn't me, you know. Not entirely. I almost died twice. If Haplo hadn't saved me in the dragon's lair or if the drake hadn't called my name…." He shuddered.
Haplo rolled his eyes.
"But really, what now?"
"What Haplo said," Marit repeated, "keep doing what we've always done. Keep going into the Labyrinth and rescuing everyone we find. Then, once we're in the Nexus…." She smiled. "We tell them that it was a Sartan who imprisoned the prison maze itself."
Alfred thought of the dream he'd had, of the River of Anger drying up. He nodded, a tiny smile on his face.
Marit, Balthazar, and Vasu seemed rather surprised that Alfred wasn't protesting. They knew why the Patryn woman's plan was practical, but they hadn't expected the modest Sartan to see the benefits right away.
Only Haplo was unsurprised by his friend's automatic understanding. Alfred was no fool; he knew that news of a Sartan redeeming his race by actually destroying the Labyrinth would go a long way towards healing the hate between their peoples.
"We should probably keep this from Ramu, though," Balthazar noted. "Heaven only knows what he'd do."
Alfred shuddered, nodded.
"But those of my people who refuse to accept the Sartan must be informed," Vasu commented. "Fortunately, our claims should be easy to prove- I could sense the exact moment of the Labyrinth's death." He shook his head in amazement. "Every man, woman, and child within the Labyrinth could sense it."
"I… suppose they could."
Vasu smiled. "Balthazar and I must go tell the rest of the Nexus that you're all right. They've been worried for you, you know."
A huge smile broke out on Alfred's face. "Yes, Headman. I know."
Somniare: to dream.
The ending is... well... blegh. But it was either this or a conversation that went on forever, and as brevity's the source of wit, I went with the shorter option.
Since there is, like, no life on this fandom, I am now taking non-slash, non-M-rated requests. Please give me inspiration. *Alfred-esque puppy eyes*